Moon and a Mocha

by admin on February 21, 2008

Here’s a slightly off-topic post, for which I hope I will be forgiven. But it was just so much fun, I can’t resist …

Last night I hosted “Moon and a Mocha II” at the Capitola Book Cafe. The announcement below, clipped from the San Jose Mercury-News, pretty well describes the event.

Up until the very last moment I had no idea whether I was going to give my talk inside or outside. The weather had been partly cloudy all day, and was getting cloudier as night fell. But as I drove to the Book Cafe, I could see the partly eclipsed moon rising, and the clouds were thin enough that it shone right through them. The moon continued ducking in and out of the clouds. But by 7:00, when we were supposed to begin, it was clear that we had a pretty big crowd outside waiting to look through the telescope, and so I decided I’d better go outside where the people were.

That turned out to be the right decision, because the moon continued to be visible — even through the clouds — throughout the total eclipse. It was so much fun to stand there, with the eclipsed moon right up there in the sky behind me, and tell stories like how an eclipse saved Columbus and who discovered the cause of eclipses. (Hint: He was tried and convicted of heresy — and no, his name wasn’t Galileo.) I kept the people entertained while they were waiting in line for the telescope. After they were done they would come and sit down in the chairs that had been set up. They asked lots and lots of questions, and good ones too. I’ve found in both of my “Moon and a Mocha” nights that I don’t really need to prepare a long lecture. The crowd at the book cafe is just so curious and eager to ask questions that I can let them take over after a few minutes.

I was especially glad to see a lot of children in the audience. One class came as an assignment for school. I asked three of the children to demonstrate what happens during a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse, using three balls of different sizes to represent the sun, Earth, and the moon. The little girl who held up the moon couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old, and she was missing her front teeth. I wish I had a picture of her. She was so cute!

Eventually the total eclipse ended and we went inside, where I signed some books and showed a DVD slideshow of the August lunar eclipse, which had been given to me by Jerry Miller, a member of the Santa Cruz Astronomy Club. The bookstore’s manager was very pleased. She estimated the total attendance at 60 people — a lot more than they usually get for a book signing!

We now return this blog to our regular topics. Thanks for indulging my other interests!

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob February 22, 2008 at 3:58 am

I feel kind of dumb for asking, but was there one place on earth that was better than Santa Cruz for watching the lunar eclipse?

Would I have seen it well here in France?

And how exactly do astromer’s determine when the next one will take place?



Michael O. February 22, 2008 at 10:28 am

unfortunately, there was a storm here in phoenix all night. Instead of the lunar eclipse we got rain and lightning.


admin February 22, 2008 at 1:40 pm


Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses can be seen from anywhere on Earth — as long as it’s night! The total eclipse lasted from 7:01 to 7:50 pm in Santa Cruz, which would have been 4:01 to 4:50 am in Paris. So if you had gotten up early enough (or gone to bed late enough!) you could have seen it. Lunar eclipses are fairly common, but getting one at a convenient time of day, like this one here in Santa Cruz, is not so common!

Nowadays astronomers have extremely precise computer models of all the planets’ orbits. You can even buy software yourself that will show you exactly where the planets are at any given time. (I think that “Starry Night” is one such software package.) However, you don’t need a computer — people were forecasting eclipses long before the age of computers. Lunar eclipses are easy. There is a cycle of eclipses called the Saros cycle, which lasts 18 years, 11 days, and 8 hours. That means there was a lunar eclipse 18 years, 11 days, and 8 hours earlier that was very similar to this one. If you keep good enough records, you can predict all of them this way.

Solar eclipses are much harder to predict because the moon’s shadow is so much smaller than the earth’s — so any eclipse is visible only from a very small region on earth. The Saros cycle lets you predict the *possibility* of a solar eclipse, but to really nail down whether it is going to happen in your area, you really do need a computer. (Or let Google do it for you! If you Google “solar eclipse 2008” or “solar eclipse 2009” it’s easy to find out where the eclipses are going to be.)


Andy Hortillosa February 23, 2008 at 10:12 am

I did not even know there was one. I am trying to get my 4-year old interested in space and astronomy.


Andy Hortillosa February 23, 2008 at 10:13 am

Dana, has asked me to write a column for its newsletter. The very first one is in March.


Carina February 24, 2008 at 11:50 am

I think it’s cool you write about your other interests too. 😀 Entertaining reading.

I don’t know whether to say I quit my Fischer drawing or finished it tonight, but here it is, cus I’m not going to look at it any more:

Basically, this is not my best work, although it has taken ETERNITY. 😀 But I’m moving on to somethign new and fresh now. Maybe Nakamura, Kramnik or Polgar, whatever. Or maybe another Fischer picture? That’s the great thing about art, you can always make something new when you fail at something. 😀


admin February 25, 2008 at 12:03 pm

Carina, I’ve been wondering where you were! Now I know — you were driving yourself nuts with this picture. I can’t imagine calling it a “failure.” I do think that it doesn’t quite grab me the way your earlier picture of Fischer does, possibly because your own idea of what you wanted to express had not crystallized yet. Maybe later it will, and then you can come back to this piece and finish it (and be happy with it).


admin February 25, 2008 at 12:05 pm


Congratulations on getting a column in Chessville! Let us know when the first one comes out.


Carina February 25, 2008 at 11:24 pm

Oh, I won’t finish it because basically I’ve come to the conclusion that drawing recently dead people disturbs my focus ALOT. 😀 Just the fact that it took over a month is a big hint, it shouldn’t take more than 10 days. I’ve started a Nakamura portrait now, and I’m already really proud of it. I guess you can predict alot about the drawing based on how you feel about it in the beginning, because every good drawing I’ve done, I’ve LOVED at the start. The second Fischer one was just depressing! I think the Nakamura drawing will be better than my first Fischer picture though, because I’ve learned alot from the past month of torture!


Andy Hortillosa February 26, 2008 at 8:40 am


I guess it is the same as with chess. The emotional feeling that goes into it dictates the tempo and oftentimes the outcome of the game. Optimism and sheer determination to play like a master have a habit of shoiwng up in a game.


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